Tag Archives: baseball

Campbell Field Renovation: Phase One

We’ve talked previously about how the Campbell Field Renovation project started with an almost busted nose and how the upgrades to the batting cages rose out of tragedy.  Now it’s time to start the meat and potatoes of how to renovate a baseball field with minimal money and very little skill. (Hint: It’s all about living in a great and giving community where people are willing to give their hard-earned dollars, their time, and their skill to help give our kids a decent place to play baseball.) 

Soon after we made the decision to start improving Campbell Field, there was a story in the local paper about how our baseball field was an unsafe eyesore. The comments were harsh and only barely based in truth. The hardest part to stomach was that these comments came from people who knew nothing about the field, the history of the field, or had ever raised a finger to make the field better. I can’t speak for the other two members of the newly formed ad hoc committee, but it pissed me off.

If we needed any added incentive to improve Kelly Campbell Field, this provided the fuel to drive the project. I guess as a positive side to the facility being called out in public like it did, it was that we three were not the only ones ticked off by the disparaging comments in the media. When news spread we were starting this project, many members of the community stepped up and donated money, and services and time. It was something special.

So here’s what we presented to the city council as Phase One of the plan and the people who were involved in each of the projects. I tried the best I could to remember all the names of the wonderful community members who have helped at Campbell Field. If I leave anyone out, I apologize in advance. Please send me a message and I’ll add you to the honor roll.

Once again, a huge “Thank You” to the baseball community of Clay County and beyond! This renovation project was truly a labor of community love for the game.

Phase 1 (Fall 2013)

A. Initial preparation for infield grating.

  • Spray and kill grass in designated areas.
  • Remove baselines sprinkler head and base anchors from the infield.
  • Remove dead grass.
  • Tilling and grading dirt in high spots for field shaping.
  • Shape infield with available dirt.
    See diagram #1

Thanks to:
Gary Carlson and Art Tannehill for their expertise and skill grading and reshaping the infield.

B. Seeding grass around the infield area.

  • Ground and soil preparation
  • Seeding
  • Water

Thanks to:
Phil Francis for soil prep and seeding.
Clay Center Coop for the donation of the grass seed.

C. Limestone track around dugouts and batter’s walkway.

  • Sod cut from high pole to high pole, 3’ wide, 3” deep.
  • Fill with crushed limestone, level, and roll pack.

 

 

 

 

Thanks to:
Scott Howe for the use of his sod cutter.
Brian Martin for the donation of limestone screenings from Martin Quarry.
Arlan Close for hauling the limestone screenings.
Sean McDonald and CTI for use of a John Deere bucket tractor to place the limestone.

D. Construct dugout protection screen.

  • 25’ long, 4-4.5 foot high pipe frame, attached to concrete.
  • Slide and tie netting over the frame.
  • Install safety pad rail over top of posts.

Thanks to:

Steve Cyre of Clay Center Public Utilities for fabrication of dugout screens from recycled pipe.


E. Bullpens

  • Double mound and double plate bullpen mounds for both home and away side of the field.

Thanks to:
Morganville Lumber for the donation of the original wood frames.
Andy Bent and Barrett Long for building the original frames.
Top Cut Construction for rebuilding the bullpen frames in 2017.

Until next time when we take a look at Phase Two.

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TLW Batting Cages #ClayCenterBaseball

(Part 2 of the Campbell Field Renovation Project focuses on a special place, a very special family, and the memory of a very special baseball player.)

Out of great tragedy, rises hope.

 

One of the greatest upgrades to the Campbell Field field baseball complex is the addition of the TLW Memorial Batting Cages. One of the things I am most grateful for in this whole field renovation project is this wonderful area donated to the baseball community following the tragic loss of one of our own.

I remember TLW coming to our Clay Center Baseball clinics when he was barely big enough to hold a bat up. He was my kind of baseball player. Ornery-awesome, to coin a Coach Hays phrase. Ornery as all get go, but willing to do the work to be the best ball player he could be. He’d be acting like a fool between drills, but once it was time to work, he soaked up what you were teaching him and attacked the skill with gusto. He was a kid who was right up my alley. I like ornery-awesome players and TLW was a classic.

As a baseball community, we can never do enough to show our gratitude to TLW’s people. Wendy, David, Jared, Janae and the rest of the family, THANK YOU!

Thank you for giving us a great place to hit baseballs and to coach hitting. But most of all, thank you for giving us a place to remember the TLW in his element. Every time I’m at the cages, I am reminded of that little baseball player with the big glove, the big bat, and the big heart.

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The Beginning. #ClayCenterBaseball

This is the first in a series about the Campbell Field Renovation Project. As we wind down on our renovation’s goal of having an acceptable place to play high school age baseball, I’ll give a bit of history in story and pictures, lament on some of the trials and tribulations involved in such a project. But most of all, I’ll try to convey our gratitude and joy for the community’s support of this project. Today we start at “The Beginning”.

The Campbell Field Renovation Project. It officially started in September of 2013. It actually started about a little over a month earlier than that, though. It all started with Lody Black’s nose.

Yes, Lody Black’s nose.

We had started a baseball workout group in mid-July of 2013. We had about 6-10 kids showing up for the workouts. It was a good thing. Except for the field. It was in poor shape. The lip was so high around the infield/outfield grass line from years and years of blowing dust because there was no decent irrigation system that when you stood in center field, you couldn’t see anything below the knees of the batter in the batter’s box. That was problem 1 of 1000.

Well, another problem was rocks. I know you folks who spent time on or around Campbell Field think the rocks are bad now, but you should have seen them then. Imagine years and years and years of dust blowing off the infield only to be replaced with dirt from highway and roadside ditches. Needless to elaborate further, there were rocks. And glass. And rebar. And chunks of asphalt. And…

On this particular night in late July of 2013, we were doing a ground ball fielding drill. We tried to clean off an alley in which to field ground balls relatively rock free. We are cooking in the ground ball drill. I am hitting fungoes from home plate the kids are fielding and dropping the ball into a bucket. On about the fourth bucket, the line of kids begins to shift geographical location. (Anyone who’s worked with kids in lines before will understand this phenomenon.)

As I hit ground balls, the line shifts slightly from 3B to SS area. I hardly notice and keep hitting grounders, one after the other. Lody is up next. He’s the oldest one there. He’s going to be a senior. He was one of my favorite local baseball kids ever since he was a wee tyke. I hit a screaming grounder. Lody moves left to field it. I see a line of big white limestone rocks in the path. Lody sees a big white baseball coming his way. The ball hits a rock, veers upward like a missile and hits Lody directly on his nose. His nose bursts open in a fountain of blood and flattened across his face. Fortunately, Lody was okay. In fact, he may be a little more handsome after this event.

We decided then it was time to do something. The condition of our premier high school baseball facility was anything but premier; it was totally unacceptable. So, myself, Rex Carlson, and Larry Wallace, Jr. talked to our mayor about the problem. Mayor Thatcher agreed something should be done and deemed us the ad hoc committee for Campbell Field Renovation.

 

We accepted the challenge. I went home, opened up a Google search and found out that “ad hoc” means, “No money.” But, that didn’t matter. We live in this great community of Clay Center, Kansas. Through the generosity of this community, we were able to get donations of materials, talent, equipment, and money to get the job done. Thank you!!!

We made a document of all the projects we needed to do and presented it to the Clay Center City Council in September of 2013. It was a plan set in three phases, mapped out in a logical order to improve the field and do it around the high school and summer team’s use of the field. This week, we finished Phase III. We had the final few sprinklers in the infield irrigation system and an automatic control system installed. (No more us manually turning on the system every morning before work and every evening during hot spells. The older I get, the tougher it gets to do this every day.) 

After four years, we are turning the corner. We are winding down the activities of the ad hoc committee for Campbell Field Renovation. The little ad hoc group has expanded to include a couple of guys (Butch Swihart and Brian Moon) who know what they are doing and are the main reason that things got done. (Note: You need a job done right, call Butch and/or Brian.)

The city has a couple more little projects we’d like to see finished. We need your help. We need to apply some good old citizen pressure on the city to come up with a smart solution to this problem. And fast!

  • Scoreboard. Our scoreboard is broken. It’s the second most thing people “inquire” to me about on Campbell Field. This is a major piece of equipment to replace, with “major” meaning “expensive”.
  • Press box/bathrooms. The bathrooms are an embarrassment. It’s the numero uno point people talk to me about on Campbell Field. It is past time for something to be done.

If you haven’t been out to see the upgrades, stop by and have a look. It’s a great, little high school sports complex. Campbell Field and Otto Unruh Stadium.

Clay Center Pride.

And if you happen to run into Lody Black, thank him for taking one for the team. But most of all, tell him he’s got an all-star nose…

 

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Load. Step. Swing

The title is absolutely correct;. “Load (Period) Step (Period) Swing (Period)”

It’s not “Load, step, swing” or what I see way too much from young players, “loadstepswing”.

A good and consistent baseball swing consists of three distinct and separate parts.

  1. The load.
  2. The stride.
  3. The swing.

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Why is “Load. Step. Swing.” so important? Because it’s vital to develop solid fundamentals in young hitters so they will be fundamentally solid older hitters. Fundamentally solid older hitters are able to enjoy success against better quality pitching as they mature and enjoy playing the game longer.

Do you know why most kids quit playing the game of baseball? They say the game is not fun for them. The game is no longer fun for them because they usually struggle to hit the baseball at the advanced level. Hitting a baseball is fun. Period. Ask any kid, they’ll back me up at an almost 100% clip.

Here is the simple method I used to instruct hitters. I use this same basic philosophy to help hitters from preschool kids up to the collegiate level. It works, It’s basic. It makes hitters able to hit laser shots from the left field line to the right field line. And when one hits the ball hard, good things happen.

Get Bouncy

Athletes move on the balls of their feet, not flat-footed or with weight on the heels. Relax the body and get bouncy to be a better athlete.

Hitter’s Rhythm

Stand up. Go ahead, get off your rump and stand with feet comfortably about shoulder width apart. Now get bouncy off the balls of your feet. Feels good, right? Next, rock side to side. When one heel comes off the ground the weight shifts to the other heel on the ground. Do you know what this is? It’s your body’s natural, relaxed motion of hitting a baseball. It is hitter’s rhythm.

Hitters should naturally rock with this rhythm almost unconsciously, even when just standing around. (It’s how we find each other in the crowd…look for the guys rocking back and forth in hitter’s rhythm).

Load

When weight rocks to back foot, the hands load to the back shoulder and lock into place.  It’s like shooting a rubber band at your sister. Be honest, do you take that big, thick, Sunday morning paper rubber band and only pull it back an inch before firing it in the direction of their beloved sister? Heck no! You pull that rubber band back as far as you can so you can fire it at that beloved sibling with explosive speed and power. Same for loading up in your swing. When a hitter loads, the rubber band has been pulled and now you are ready to release that locked and loaded power onto the ball.

Step

The step, or stride, will vary between hitters depending on where the hitter is comfortable in their stance. If the hitter likes a narrow stance and longer stride is usually more natural. If the hitter likes a wide stance, then the stride is usually short. If I see a kid having problems controlling the stride or being consistent with their stride, the I’ll put them in a wide stance and have them just pick up their front foot and post it down right where it was. The whole purpose of the step is to shift the energy from the load into the barrel during the swing.

I like to teach hitters to “stick” the ball of the front foot into the ground with the outside of the foot pointed toward the pitcher. The hitter needs to post the front leg to stop the forward body momentum shift so the hitter doesn’t slide through the front hip and waste all that loaded up power. A solid step movement should be relaxed, quiet and stick the perfect hitting position. (see Hitting Position for an explanation on the importance of starting a swing from a consistent hitting position.)

Swing

You’ve loaded, you’ve stepped, and now you are in perfect hitting position. What’s next?

Simple, it’s a swing.

Take your front hand (the bottom hand) and pull the knob toward the ball in a quick, compact, powerful swing. By developing a consistent hitting position, a hitting only needs to learn the one swing which is directed toward the pitched ball. The swing needs to start from the back shoulder and go directly to the ball, no matter where it is pitched. Inside, outside, high, low, or right down the middle. A hitter with a good fundamental swing can hit any of these pitches with power to all fields and makes for a dangerous hitter who is very difficult to pitch to and defend.

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Sounds like something we all want, right?

So, repeat after me.

“Load.”

“Step.”

“Swing.”

Say these three words hundreds and hundreds of times in your head and out loud. It is the rhythm of a hitter. It is the rhythm of baseball.

Three separate words, not one.

Three separate parts, not one.

Load. Step. Swing

Hitting a baseball is one of the great things in life.

Enjoy life!

Happy Hitting!

bat_tee1

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Double Buck & Shoot the Sauce

There I sat.

In Texas Tom’s.

Late at night, almost midnight.

After one of the first Legion Post 199 doubleheaders of the summer.

Sitting there staring at the red tray holding two Buckaroo Basket orders on the white, shiny table in front of me.

Contemplating. Contemplating not only how hungry I was after a night of baseball, but contemplating the very future of this collection of baseball talent Dennis “Harpo” Hurla had put together for the summer’s Fegan’s Cafe team.

If there was ever a time I needed a clutch hit, this was it.

It was my second season playing for Harpo. I was one of only a handful returners, and, once again, the only player on this talent-laden team from Washington High School. The previous year was a conglomeration of talent from a wide variety of area high schools. This year, though, almost all the players were from Bishop Ward, all from one very successful high school programs that spring season and my school’s most hated rival, no less.

I knew many of these kids and played baseball with many of them coming up through Christ the King Catholic School. Still, I wondered how and where I would fit within the hierarchy of this baseball team. I didn’t wanted to be pushed out to the fringes of the team–I wanted to the hub this team turned around.

This may sound arrogant to you, but it’s part of being a confident athlete. My arrogance and ego as an athlete probably failed me in life 99% of the time, but on the sports field, that other 1% was MINE. That 1% was pure magic. I wanted to be dependable to my new teammates in any situation. I wanted them to rely on me.

There I sat in Texas Tom’s—a greasy, local fast food joint in the heart of Bishop Ward territory—ready to mark my place with my new teammates. I remember as a kid, driving by Texas Tom’s, with the cartoon cowboy painted on its sign, on the way to my grandparents house. We’d never stop there to eat. Never. The Ward guys talked about TT’s all the time. They even told the legend of how several big time Cyclone athletes had achieved rare air through their one-sitting consumption of a two Buckaroo Baskets.

In case you never had the pure, artery hardening experience of the Buckaroo Basket at Texas Tom’s, here’s what you got in your half-a-football sized red plastic basket lined with TT’s paper. One cheeseburger dripping in greasy goodness, one fried burrito made with the finest of synthetic protein sources, copious amounts of steaming french fries, a taco, and to top thing off properly, a handful of crisp deep fried onion rings dropped over the top. Oh, let’s not forget the spicy, red taco sauce served on the side packed in sealable white styrofoam cups due to potential negative environmental impact and ability to eat its way out of a normal paper serving cup.

Double Buckaroo Basket was twice of all the above.

So with a half-dozen set of eyes upon me, the outsider, and the clock close to striking midnight, I snarfed down one Buckaroo Basket and then proceeded calmly to the second. The second Buckaroo Basket proved little challenge as it went down with the expert fashion as only a 17-year-old highly active, Bubba athlete can do.

I finished to smiles, congratulations and many pats on the back. I was cool in their eyes. But, to me, that wasn’t enough. I wanted to be the workhorse of this team. I wanted to be the guy they looked to get the big hit, make the big play, and be the rock the team could be built on. I wanted my new teammates to not only let an outsider into their circle, I wanted them to hook their wagons to me. And I wanted to do justice to Dennis Hurla. Harpo gave me, an unknown from Washington High School, the opportunity to play for Fegan’s Cafe and I didn’t want to let him down.

I told the guys to sit back down in their seats. They did. I reached through the trash on the tray in front of me and fished out the two sealed containers of the taco sauce. The taco sauce the Ward guys said nobody EVER eats. I popped the lids off carefully and every chair in the vicinity slid away from me a few yards. Looking into the eyes fixed upon me and the cup of red goo in my hands, I threw back one after the other and shot down the sauce.

Eyes bulged around our little group and their stomachs turned over. But, I held strong. I stood, picked up my tray and deposited the trash into the can. I turned to my paralyzed, gawking teammates.

“Boys, let’s get the hell out of here. We have another game tomorrow night.”

I had forgotten all about that night 33 years ago. For some reason, the memory popped out of my neural network the other day.

Double Buck & Shoot the Sauce.

It quickly became a team battle cry.

How can one forget something like that?

Probably brain damage from too many containers of Texas Tom’s Taco Sauce.

Buckaroo Basket

(Note: We made to the Kansas American Legion state tournament that year for the first time in many years. Once Harpo survived coaching us crazy SOB’s, he went to several regional and national Legion events before becoming head baseball coach at Bishop Ward where he has won more Kansas 4A State Baseball Championships than he has fingers. I am forever grateful of the time spent playing for Dennis. I know we, the first couple groups of kids he ever coached, are better human adults because of the experience.)

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Broken Bats

There was a time in my life where the world revolved around broken bats.

Baseball ruled my youth. From the time the snow melted, until the leaves turned, it was all about baseball. In our neighborhood, we weren’t the richest kids. We were from working class families in the 1970’s all trying to squeeze out the good life with lots of kids and minimal resources.

I spent a lot of time at our local baseball park. By local, I mean within bike riding distance because that was the only way to get around town for us kids. With both older brothers and younger brothers, there was almost always one member of the family playing a game on either the little field or the big field, so I was there about every night even if my team had the night off.

As a spectator, with “spectator” meaning chasing foul balls for a piece of gum and playing cup ball in the open dirt space between the fields, an eye and/or ear was always kept open for the hottest commodity around, a broken wooden bat. Yes, boys and girls, all bats used to be made of wood. Aluminum bats were around, but to hit a ball to the sound of a “tink” was not the most desirable way one wished to spend their summer. Back in the day, one might as well spend the whole of summer in the reference section of the library rather than swing metal instead of natural wood.

IMG_2357

Bats were expensive, even back then. It was a rare thing to have your own bat. I had a Carl Yastrzemski model 28-inch Louisville Slugger I got for my 5th birthday. The Yaz wasn’t for the backyard or the playground; it was a bat you held in your hands, took practice swings with and dreamt of championship winning balls flying over the Green Monster or the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium.

So, as I was saying, personal ownership of a high quality, store-bought bat was rare, which made the acquisition of batting practice, pick-up game, home run king, Indian ball bats of the highest importance. Hence, the broken bats market was vital to the game outside the game of summer baseball.

A typical summer day would start with a fine breakfast and then dress in my finest set of summer play clothes, grab the glove, the water-logged baseball an irresponsible five-year-old brother left outside in the last rainstorm and hit the road on the bike. Along the ride to the ballpark, neighbor kids would ride out of their respective driveways and fall into the line of bikers.  We’d arrive at the little league field and before we’d split off into teams for the game of the day, we’d split off into search parties.

We’d first hit the woods in the ravine behind the big kid field and search for lost foul balls. On a game night at the park, found foul balls meant bubble gum, but in the daylight, found foul balls meant we actually had a decent, real baseball to play with. Once the woods were properly scoured, it was time to fan out and check the trash cans for broken bats.

Coaches rarely threw a broken bat into the trash during a game. The busted bat was usually disposed of properly long after fans, players and parents left as the coach was packing the gear to leave. He would come across said cracked bat handle and drop it into the rusted trash cans dispersed around the stands. With any luck, I’d find a true pot of gold—a treasure. A bat with only a slight crack in the handle. Whatever the haul, though, one of us would take the bat home for repair.

Dad had taught us the fine art of bat handle repair well at the Hays house. We had an entire metal container of tiny, thin finish nails just for this purpose. We would put the broken section of the bat handle in the vise and carefully tap nails across the cracked section. Every couple of nails, we’d remove the bat from the vice and tap the knob on the floor of the workroom. If the sound was solid, it was ready. If the sound was hollow or vibrated. it needed more nails. Once nailing was complete, Dad’s handy roll of electrical tape wrapped tightly around the handle finished the reclamation and the bat was, in true Frankenstein fashion, ALIVE.

These broken bats were the heart and soul of our baseball life. Without them, who knows what we’d turned into. Gangs of street thugs? Petty criminals? Math wizards? Basketball players? I shiver to think of my life without baseball. The joy of hitting a baseball would never have been the same. The crack of the bat, even if the crack has a slightly finish nail/electrical tape ring to it, would hold no magic to my young-at-heart 50- year-old heart.

Life’s simple pleasures.

Broken bats.

The simple joy of a game.

A poor boy’s dream.

IMG_2353

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Swinging For A Better Investment

It’s almost baseball season.

Doesn’t that phrase have a nice ring to it? It is music to my ears. I can almost picture the excitement of kids all across this great country as they look forward to stepping on the diamond.

As you parents and coaches get ready to outfit the young players in your life, I want you to consider a purchase that will pay off 100x greater than just about anything else you are looking to buy for baseball.

Buy a tee.

I am a firm believer every kid should have a tee AND every kid/parent/coach should have a basic idea of how to use one.

Here is a quality tee you can get for $20.

BattingTee

Thinking about spending $200-$500 on a bat? STOP!

First, and foremost, be willing to spend the $20 on a tee to teach the player to hit screaming line drives regardless of the bat they hold in their hands.

It is not the equipment that catches or hits a baseball; it is the skill of the hand that holds the equipment which accomplishes great things.

Buy a tee.

Learn how to use it.

Learn how to teach with it. See my earlier blog post, Hitting Position: The Hosmer Breakdown, for more information and keep an eye open to a upcoming post about tee drill progression. (And free open hitting sessions will start soon, also.)

Buy a tee. Hang a net to hit into or drill a hole in a ball and tether it to a 15-20′ piece of clothesline rope. Hit baseballs, plastic golf balls, tennis balls, or any kind of ball you can scrounge up.

Save yourself some money. Don’t be fooled into thinking a $400 baseball bat will miraculously make you or your kids a better hitter. At the end of the day, there is only one thing that makes a better hitter—WORK and REPETITION.

Have a great preparation to Baseball 2015!

Now, go buy a tee.

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